Why I HATED The Book Thief

Oh, yes, I’m going to go there, and I don’t care how many people might think I’m as bad as a kitten-killer for stating my honest opinion on this bloated piece of purple prose on par with a D.W. Griffith movie. And please don’t write some impassioned comment trying to get me to Magickally change my mind and suddenly join the crowd squeeing all over this tripe. Not gonna happen.

When this was assigned as the required historical in my YA Lit class, I was excited to finally get to read this book I’d heard so many good things about. And the first few chapters actually flew by quickly. I thought I was going to love the rest of the book and have it done in a few days.

Was I wrong.

Attempting to read this book was like watching paint dry. It moved at a snail’s pace, with no real plot taking shape and nothing of note really happening. A lot of things happened, but they never really accomplished anything. Even a book that’s deliberately slower-paced and more about character development than fast-paced and plot-centric needs to be hung on some kind of arc. I kept waiting for some kind of inciting incident to take shape, some dramatic midway point, and it never happened.

With the exception of Rudy and maybe Hans, none of these characters felt particularly fleshed-out and three-dimensional. They were like a collection of stereotypes and characteristics, rather like how I used to write my own characters. At least my excuse was extreme youth. None of these people ever really came alive for me. I felt absolutely nothing for any of them.

The prose is excessively purple, and not only that, but it’s overwrought and reads like something you’d find in the notebooks of some self-important teen who thinks s/he’s all that. I’ve been there and done that, so I know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it’s not even deliberate, but your youthful prose oozes the message, “Look at me! I’m so much deeper and more creative than my peers! Look at these unique metaphors and similes! Look how uniquely I use language! Everyone praise me as a special little snowflake and misunderstood genius!”

Page after page contains silly examples like “breakfast-colored sun,” “chocolate-colored sky,” “pinecones littered like cookies,” “disfigured figure,” “lacerated windows,” “the sound of a smell,” and “rusty silver eyes.” Seriously, the language is just bizarre. And “nightmare” isn’t a verb, at least not in English.

It’s way too heavy-handed, beating us over the head with all the subtlety of a D.W. Griffith movie and telling us how to think and feel. At least Griffith’s films are entertaining and tell interesting stories, his personal flaws and Victorian preachiness/moralizing aside. With the vile exception of BOAN, I’d gladly watch just about any of his films again.

Unless Rudy were exposed to radioactive material or a dye job went seriously wrong, his hair would not literally be the color of lemons. A human being cannot have lemon-colored hair naturally. Why do so many writers try to creatively describe hair color?

Death as a narrator is a really bad gimmick that doesn’t work.

Native-speaking Germans have said that the vulgar words constantly bandied about are NOT used as anything but vulgar, lowbrow insults in German. They’re not used as cute, charming, funny terms of endearment between spouses, friends, or parents and children. Just picture one of George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television standing in for those words, and you get the point. Totally obscene and inappropriate.

Way too much telling instead of showing. I think there’s too much emphasis on ONLY showing these days, but this wasn’t the good, necessary kind of telling. It just made the book even more boring and long-winded.

Nice job stereotyping nuns as ruler-wielding, child-beating sadists!

How not to write omniscient POV: Litter the book with constant spoilers and horn into the narrative to give away pivotal plot points, the fates of just about everyone, and the ending, multiple times. Just think of a book whose ending totally tore your heart out because of a character’s unexpected death, or some other kind of tragedy. Now imagine how different it would’ve been had you seen this every 5-10 pages:

****NEWSFLASH!**** In 5 months, Name is going to die in exactly this way! You’ll never see THAT one coming! Heeheehee! Everyone praise my cleverness! Look how avant-garde I am!

God help the people who seriously think this is “brilliant” or “moving” use of “foreshadowing.” Um, I wasn’t aware that the definition of foreshadowing now included outright giving away the ending and pivotal plot developments.

He had over 500 pages and couldn’t even make it to the end of the War! Serious sign this was an unfocused project.

The title makes no sense, as Liesel only steals a few books on and off.

It takes a special talent to make a book set during this era boring.

And this is why I stay far away from books with massive hype.

22 thoughts on “Why I HATED The Book Thief

  1. I really do love your book rants. I read this but to be honest can’t remember much about it now. I think I read it in 2006. Maybe this means it didn’t really make a lasting impression. As it evidently did with you, but for all the wrong reasons. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oops, I forgot to mention that this made me snigger: “Unless Rudy were exposed to radioactive material or a dye job went seriously wrong, his hair would not literally be the color of lemons.”


  3. This book is on my to-read list. I’ll be curious to see if I have a similar reaction. I’ve read other books before that received prizes and accolades and had the same kind of disgust reactions. Sometimes I think people confuse different and startling with avant garde and innovative.


  4. You couldn’t have put it better. I went to see the movie and wondered why it was titled Book Thief. Boring, drawn out and with an ending that just darn right sucked. It was a waste of money and time. Wish I would have read this review first. lol


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  8. I have to read this for my eighth grade A.L.A. class, and, I must say, I agree with you completely. The book is soooooo slow, and we’re searching for symbolism, but all it is is the rehashing of white, red, black, and some cliche symbols, like “candles of hope.” We have to annotate every page, and I need to be at page 350 right now, but I’m only on page 150. I can’t do this book. Never again. And the Death being a narrator thing hardly adds anything, and he barely even narrates. It’s also really annoying, all those “newsflashes,” as they just interrupt. I’m glad that this book only has 500 pages. -_-


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  10. It’s part of a trend of re-interpreting WW2 through a snowflake sense. Think of the The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The message is that Hitler was nasty, and the same people who supported him are still around today (and voting Trump). The Silver Sword did it much better.


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  12. I hated the book too, I gave it 2 stars because for a YA book in comparison to others at least it’s not all about itty bitty teen romance and has somewhat of a message.

    Also i am german and I seriously had a problem with the portrayal of the holocaust in this book. I think Zusak instrumentalized the holocaust for cheap emotional reactions of the readers. In addition the fact that it is just another story of some german heroes being nice to a jew kind of lessens the horror of it all.
    I mean Zusak couldn’t even do some historical research about time an place. He just imagined the whole place Liesel lived in instead of taking a real location.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Thank you for this review. Stilted, cliched, shabby prose and cartoon stereotype characters. I put down the basement ok after a couple godawful chapters.


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  15. I 100% agree. Just like a bunch of people here I read this for 8th grade language arts and I despised it. People told me I just didn’t “get” it but I really think there’s nothing to get. The book is reeks of wanting, or better, pretending to be avante-garde and philosophical but it isn’t. Thank you for voicing your opinion on the matter.


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